Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev on Saturday hailed a newly modernised Caspian Sea port which the ex-Soviet country hopes will link up to China’s massive “Belt and Road” infrastructure project.
Speaking at the Caspian port of Kuryk, 78-year-old Nazarbayev said Kazakhstan was investing in such transport hubs to benefit from the trillion-dollar project championed by Chinese leader Xi Jinping that aims to be a modern version of the ancient Silk Road trading routes.
“Investing in transport infrastructure makes our economy more competitive in multiple ways,” Nazarbayev said.
“We are providing a stimulus to the trade routes of the revived Silk Road,” he told businessmen and delegate from nearby countries.
Kazakhstan has tied its economic future to neighbouring China by investing heavily in road, rail and port infrastructure that will facilitate trade going west from China.
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The Kuryk port is one of two Kazakh ports positioned as hubs for trade between Asia and Europe. The other larger port is Aktau, some 100 kilometres (62 miles) to the north.
Kazakhstan expects 4.5 million tons of goods to pass through Kuryk by the end of 2018, three times more than last year.
Growing capacity at the two ports is also important to Kazakhstan’s oil industry, although Nazarbayev stressed that diversifying the economy away from crude and other raw commodities was a priority.
“We are working on an innovative industrial programme that differs from the raw materials (economy), vulnerable to price plunges and volatility,” he said.
Nazarbayev was speaking ahead of a landmark summit on Sunday on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, following more than two decades of diplomatic wrangling between the bordering countries: Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan.
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The five countries’ leaders are expected to sign a breakthrough agreement on the status of the Caspian Sea, easing regional tensions and potentially facilitating new lucrative oil and gas projects.
Nazarbayev said Saturday he expected a “historic decision,” Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported.